Q&A with political humorist Will Durst
November 15, 2012
Q: Have you ever had a busier year and have you started to decompress after the election?Durst: It was exciting. It was energizing and right now I am in the midst of recalibrating my act.Q: Will you be updating your election primer book?Durst: Yes. I am going to add a couple of pieces and a couple of sidebars.Q: You scheduled this Tahoe appearance a long time ago to coincide with the post-election period. Nevertheless, are you surprised it’s really over? If it came down to Florida, surely it would be up to lawyers and the Supreme Court.Durst: Florida, we should just cut it off. It’s America’s penis. It’s hot. It’s wet. It’s moist. It’s wrinkled. It’s amazing how things come back around. Florida remains the same. You’d think after what happened 12 years ago they would be embarrassed and try to get it right. Apparently shame is not a concept they’re familiar with.Q: Is it too early to ask: Clinton vs. Bush in 2016?Durst: Twenty-four years later it’s all the same.Q: What about Christie-Biden?Durst: There is so much that could happen. It could be Biden. It could be somebody that we’ve never heard of. You think about Bill Clinton, we never heard of him. In ’88 he was the guy who gave the interminable keynote speech where he got applause with, “and in conclusion.” He was totally off the boards. Anything can happen in politics. Four years is so long. It could be Cuomo. It could be Ryan. I’m sure Ron Paul is going to make another run and maybe he’ll look attractive to these people.Q: Are you disappointed with the outcome? A Romney administration probably would have provided more satirical fodder.Durst: It would have been the full-employment act for political comedy.Q: Is it tough to ridicule the first African-American president, especially since he has been the target of such genuine vitriol?Durst: Comedy always works off of extremes, and he’s not extreme. He’s so middle-of-the-road there should be a double-yellow line down the middle of his forehead. And also there’s no scandal. Bush and Clinton both had scandals. So, yeah, the focus is on the antipathy toward him because you need something that’s in people’s minds. When you are a comic, you need something that everyone has a shared reference of. And him being so smooth, there’s not many jokes about smooth.Q: You have commented about the new demographic, low-information voters. In this election, every Republican who spoke about women’s reproductive rights lost. Is this the beginning of the end of low-information candidates?Durst: One would hope, wouldn’t one? The Republican party is going to have to rethink their whole strategy. The powers that be are not dumb. They can see the handwriting on the wall. They might get involved in immigration to get some of the Latino vote. Even Boehner is talking about compromise and that’s one of the seven signs of the apocalypse.Q: The president decisively beat his GOP challenger, 332-206, basically by two touchdowns. And he Dems have clear control of the Senate. How do you suppose they will screw it up?Durst: If you liked the 112th Congress, you’re going to love the 113th because the president’s the same, he might have more mandates. The Republicans are stronger in the House and the Democrats are stronger in the Senate. So if you liked when went on in the past couple of years you’re going to like the next couple of years.Q: Locally, we had Shelley Berkley vs. Dean Heller. Would making light of that race be considered piling on?Durst: That’s not my job to come in and be a carpetbagger and talk about local stuff. I don’t live there. I don’t know the ins and outs. I’ll mostly concentrate on stuff that happened 240 feet west.Q: Your native Wisconsin sent its best-known politician, Tommy Thompson, down to defeat against the first openly gay Senate winner. Also, Washington and Colorado elected to legalize recreational marijuana. Are these harbingers that the United States is resuming its role as a leader in a progressive society?Durst: I think California is the Petri dish of social change. That will be fun to watch because the kids have different attitudes. They don’t have the extreme positions on recreational marijuana. It’s going to be a good time. That’s the ancient Arabian curse: May you live in interesting times.Q: 2012 was not the year of the Turd Blossom. Durst: Squash blossom, yes. I’m not sure what it is, but every time I see it on a menu, I think of Karl Rove.Q: His campaign was like strapping $240 million worth of donors to the roof of his car that crashed on the Washington beltway? What does his future entail?Durst: We’re writing a sketch, “The Best of Karl Rove on Election Night.” Then, if you buy this tape, you’ll get Karl Rove, through the ages. Get all six. “Karl Rove at Little Big Horn.” “Karl Rove at the Alamo.” “Karl Rove at Vietnam.”Q: What about the alternate reality of Fox News? Will there be changes?Durst: No. If there are changes, they will be incremental and too tiny to see. They know what they do. They do it well and you can’t throw a saddle on a rabbit. They are what they are.Q: You call yourself an equal-opportunity offender. Have you ever considered approaching comedy with a point of view?Durst: No. I am a translator, a tour guide. People don’t have time to watch and cover all this stuff. I do it for them. I watch this stuff so they don’t have to. People have jobs and hobbies and families. Me? This is my gig. So I’ll try to be the guide to take them to California blazing a trail to the promised land.Q: This is off topic, but as a San Francisco resident I want to ask you about the orange-and-black Halloween where everybody dressed up as baseball fans this year. Let me play a sideline reporter for a moment and ask the only question TV folks ever ask: “What’s it like?”Durst: It took forever to get over the fact that we won in 2010 and now the fact that we have a 2010 and 2012 world titles, everybody’s wardrobe has to be updated. It’s going to be a very extensive proposition. … Especially in San Francisco where Halloween is redundant.— Tim Parsons, Lake Tahoe Action
It’s no coincidence Will Durst is up here one week after the election.As one of this country’s premier political humorists and commentators, Durst has an uncanny ability of being able to decipher all of this political mumbo-jumbo, funnel it into the Durst-thought-process machine and make it both understandable and funny when delivered as a bit. We’re fortunate up here in Tahoe because you can hear his latest offerings every Friday on my morning show (Durst closes my program having the last word) and also here in Lake Tahoe Action in print every Thursday when it hits the streets. Calling San Francisco home, this homegrown, down-to-earth, Wisconsin native (he’s a huge fan of both the SF Giants and, I believe, the 49ers, too) has so many credits it’s almost embarrassing, but I can tell you some of my favorites include being C-SPAN’s favorite comic (eight appearances), a five-time Emmy nominee and recipient of seven consecutive nominations for the American Comedy Awards Stand Up of the Year and the first comic ever invited to perform at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and the first American to be nominated for the prestigious Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for his one-man show “You Can’t Make Stuff Up Like This.” The New York Times said of Durst that he is “quite possibly the best political satirist working in the country today.” The Los Angeles Times called him “A modern day Will Rogers.” The San Francisco Examiner stated that he’s “the heir apparent to Mort Sahl and Dick Gregory,” while The Chicago Tribune hailed Durst as a “hysterical hybrid of Hunter S. Thompson and Charles Osgood.” For what it’s worth I just call him “Brilliant.” I came to that conclusion when I heard him give a talk at the prestigious Commonwealth Club in San Francisco long before I became a comic. By the way, Durst just doesn’t comment on the political happenings in this country. He was part of the political scene having run for mayor of San Francisco and actually did great considering he had no PAC funding coming in fourth out of 11, spending just $1,200 and getting 2 percent of the vote. He once had a radio show with former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown. The show was called, “Will & Willie” and one of the funniest and seriously entertaining programs ever. He scored a huge hit on the national stage who, in 1998 scored a political hat trick by opening for Vice President Al Gore and performing at both the Governors Conference in Milwaukee and the Mayors’ Convention in Reno.In addition to standup, radio commentary and weekly columns, Durst has several spot-on books dealing with his keen observations on all things political with his book, “The All-American Sport of Bipartisan Bashing” (a companion piece based on his very successful one-man show of the same name that ran Off-Broadway). Durst then followed that up with his latest: “Elect to Laugh! A Hilarious, Common Sense Guide to American Politics 2012 Election Edition” continues the thread being even more hilarious. His work in comedy clubs, theaters, festivals across the country and the planet has been well noted and has been recognized with appearances on Letterman, HBO and Showtime are again, just to name a few. I can’t think of a more qualified comedian than Durst being here this week as the final word when it comes to not just the 2012 election but other topics as well that deal with everyday life, making him the most well-rounded and well educated funnymen out there on the scene today. Not only will you laugh at his show but feel that much more smarter when you exit the comedy club.
I first had “Mo” on my morning radio show back in 2009 when she was one of the finalists in the San Francisco Comedy Competition over at MontBleu. I remember inviting her over to our room to do a guest set’ and she went over very well. It’s taken a few years but I am glad she’s not only here this week but also booked with political humorist Will Durst. Good thing I got her in too because she’s been making San Francisco her home these past few months after getting a sweet gig as the evening Sunday jock on KGO radio which has been one of the most successful newstalk AM stations in the Bay Area for the past 35 years! Makes perfect sense too because long before Maureen became a comic she was a broadcast journalist for public television covering politics (which was one of the reasons I wanted her with Durst) and topical issues of the day. Maureen created and hosted what was to be known as The Radio Ritas, a nationally syndicated morning talk show where she chatted with the likes of Howard Stern, Joan Rivers, Phyllis Diller, George Carlin and many others. Maureen is from the East Coast, getting regular spots at some of New York’s finest comedy venues in addition to performing at festivals all over the planet including stints in Ireland, Scotland, Canada, New York, Boston and Nantucket. She’s also shared the stage with a wide variety of talent opening for Joy Behar, Steven Wright and Rosie O’Donnell. The Manhattan Association of Clubs and Cabarets voted her Best Female Comic of 2009 which, as Mo puts it, “Means the gay boys dug me, and I dig them.” Being in San Francisco has been great for Mo because her take on all things contemporary makes her the perfect addition to KGO radio and a natural having her up here in Tahoe, her first time in our room.